“Jane Navio was a chrome-assed bitch … but she was right.” Up Against It, M. J. Locke
I wish there were more Jane Navios in fantasy. Oh, you see them in science fiction and horror, but not in fantasy. There is an unwritten code that women in fantasy novels must not be older than thirty, or they’re all the grandmotherly types over sixty, but rarely are there any in the forty to fifty range. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but since the 1990s, female characters over forty seem to have faded into the background scenery, and very few are protagonists.
Part of this is our current culture. I see it every time I go online. So-and-so actress is aging well, but only because she appears as if she is ten or twenty years younger. Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench are the exceptions to this rule. Both of these ladies have played chrome-assed bitches in their films. They don’t waffle or give long, righteous speeches about women and what they need. They wade right into a situation and get the job done.
The genre community talks about writing worlds that are a clearer reflection of the world in which we live, yet no one talks about the need for older protagonists. People don’t cease to exist after thirty, nor do they turn into fountains of knowledge and wisdom. Old bearded men, who guide young men, or ancient wise women, who are kind and giving, simply don’t exist in abundance in the real world. It’s easy become lost in the wonder of youth, but wonder does not automatically stop after a certain age. Even at fifty, I am still discovering new aspects of self and the world around me.
Like everyone else, older people like to see themselves reflected in the fiction they read. When I posed the question on Twitter one day, people were quick to mention George R.R. Martin’s Catelyn and Cersei as good examples of mature women in current literature, and I can’t disagree. Of the two, I’d say that Cersei falls closer to chrome than Catelyn. They are the biggest reasons I’ve stuck with the series as long as I have.
There were chrome-assed bitches in the days before chrome.
The younger women in the series don’t interest me as much, because they are still at the point of their lives where they feel locked into their circumstances by virtue of their gender. By the time most women hit forty, they are just ready to kick ass.
There is something freeing about being forty. For a woman who has reached emotional maturity, she no longer cares what people think of her. There is no “leaning in.” Women over forty know how to navigate conventional prejudices and will subvert those biases with a word. A woman over forty will speak her mind.
Ah, but people will say, because there are those who say these things as if saying them over and over will somehow make them true: Ah! But fantasy is like history and in history, women only existed to be saved or raped or murdered.
I call bullshit. Women ruled not just kingdoms but their homes as well. There were chrome-assed bitches in the days before chrome.
Remember their names, these women who lived and fought and taught:
- Hatshepsut was a chromed-assed bitch who ruled first as regent, then as a pharaoh;
- Athaliah got her chrome as the queen of Judah, she ruled for seven bloody years;
- Artemisia I commanded five ships during the Battle of Salamis. She didn’t get that command by being demure;
- Gaohou seized power from her son to become China’s first woman ruler, which is not the first time such a woman has decided her son or husband is incompetent to rule (see Catherine the Great);
- Queen Sondok, ruled the Korean kingdom of Silla and led her country through a conflict with a neighboring kingdom;
- ‘A’ishah, Muhammad’s widow, rebelled against the caliph ‘Ali at the Battle of the Camel at Basra.
- The second Council of Nicaea was convened by the Byzantine ruler Irene;
- And let us all pay homage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, who accompanied King Louis VII on the Second Crusade, and when their marriage collapsed, she wed Henry II, the future king of England.
The older the woman, the more dangerous she becomes. Chrome-assed bitches don’t need guns or swords, they have their brains.
The older the woman, the more dangerous she becomes. Older women didn’t need weapons to take the world down; they changed the course of history with a whisper. A word in the right ear brought down kings and queens, or maneuvered their kin into power. Chrome-assed bitches don’t need guns or swords, they have their brains.
Fantasy tends to be marketed toward the younger generation, and that’s okay, but often that very marketing pushes the older people away. We never stop loving fantasy or believing in wondrous tales. We do, however, like you, move away from literature that refuses to see us as we are.
Older women are not all sweet mentors, who are patient and gentle and good. Some of us are chrome-assed bitches who know how to get things done. I wanted to see stories about people like me, so I wrote two chrome-ass bitches of my own.
These women don’t have time for lamentations. They are also intensely self-aware, which is something that comes with age.
Rachael is forty and Catarina forty-four. Both are chrome-assed bitches of the highest order. These women don’t have time for lamentations. They are also intensely self-aware, which is something that comes with age.
Lucian might think he is the prize between his sister and his lover, but Rachael and Catarina have other concerns. They know the bastion with him within their ranks has the greatest edge. All three adults have personal stakes in the game, but Rachael and Catarina are also seeing the big picture. They both want power and make no secret of it.
Rachael will drive the youth of the bastion into war. She will sacrifice the few to save the many, because she has been to Hell and knows what awaits them if they fail. While some readers might think that Catarina lost the game in Miserere, they too fail to see the big picture. For it is only through death that she can find eternal life and reign as the Queen of Hell.
Art by Renato Pastor
Older women are much more fun to write. They’ve reached an emotional maturity that is not about blame, but about responsibility. They do not perceive the world strictly in shades of good and evil. They view each problem as unique, and they measure the situation by its own merits. Emotional maturity is an insidious thing. It robs our sight of black and white and blurs issues into shades of gray, but chrome-assed bitches can see through the fog to get things done.
I dream of the day when I can locate mature female characters that aren’t ancient wizards or wise old seers and side props to speed little children to their destinies. I want to read about diplomats and intrigues, not another child who wars her way to power. Just like you, I want to read about people like me in the genre that I love.